Matt Sayles/Associated Press Pablo Trapero, the director of "Carancho," right, poses with the actress Martina Gusman at the Cannes Film Festival.
The surprise winner in last year's Oscar competition for best foreign language film was "The Secret in Their Eyes," an Argentine neo-noir thriller starring Ricardo Darin. The Argentine submission this year? "Carancho," a neo-noir thriller starring Ricardo Darin.
The history of the foreign-language category suggests that the odds of lightning striking twice, in the same place and genre in two consecutive years, are slim, but there is definitely a method to the choice made by the Argentine Academy of Cinema Arts and Sciences. The director and screenwriter of "Carancho," Pablo Trapero, said he thought that following in the footsteps of "The Secret in Their Eyes" might even help his movie's chances.
"I don't think it's going to hurt, and it could even generate curiosity and a desire to see another film from a country that makes good films," he said in a telephone interview from Buenos Aires. "We've done well in festivals and created a nice space for ourselves here and in Spain, and I think that's likely to continue when we open in France and the United States."
"Carancho" means "vulture" in Argentina, and is used there as a slang term to describe an ambulance-chasing lawyer, in this case Mr. Darin, a gifted actor who specializes in characters in a state of emotional exhaustion or existential crisis. (Things get even more complicated when he falls in love with an ambulance medic played by Martina Gusman, Mr. Trapero's wife and business partner.) In "The Secret in Their Eyes" he played a world-weary judicial investigator, but Mr. Trapero emphasized the nuanced differences between the two roles that he hoped audiences and Oscar voters would notice.
"My film plays a bit with the image that Ricardo has here and in other countries, which is why we have him getting beaten up at the beginning," he explained. "He's always in a situation of crisis, but I wanted a different register, one more visceral and violent, than in the films he's made in the past."
The choice of "Carancho" as Argentina's submission has been much debated in newspapers and blogs and on television and radio in that country. Mr. Trapero's film triumphed narrowly over "El Hombre de al Lado," or "The Man Next Door," a black comedy about squabbling neighbors (one an aesthete, the other a boor) that won a prize for cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival last year and had a strong local following.
"Once again, Darin is playing himself," one commentator complained on the site of the weekend newspaper Perfil. "This one hasn't got the slightest chance of winning."
The Academy's rules state that each country "shall be invited to submit its best motion picture," with the nominee chosen "by one organization, jury or committee that should include artists and/or craftspeople from the field of motion pictures." But in many countries, most of those casting ballots have little, if any, personal knowledge of how Hollywood works or what it wants, and their choices sometimes seem to be the result of a guessing game: What kind of film is most likely to appeal to Academy voters?
That can lead to some odd choices, and a certain uniformity in subject matter. This year, for example, both South Korea ("A Barefoot Dream") and Venezuela ("Hermano") have submitted uplifting stories from the world of soccer, while Scandinavia seems to have cornered the market on movies about mental disorders: Sweden's "Simple Simon" is about a young man with Asperger's syndrome; Iceland's "Mamma Gogo" focuses on Alzheimer¡¯s disease, and Norway's "The Angel" deals with addictive personalities.
In the case of Argentina, the only Latin American country to have won the best foreign-language film Oscar more than once, filmmakers have clearly developed an expertise with thrillers, police procedurals and capers. "The Official Story," about the military dictatorship's trafficking in the children of the disappeared, won the Oscar in 1986, and the 2000 crime drama "Nine Queens," which also starred Mr. Darin, was later remade by George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh's production company in 2004 as "Criminal."
Even before it opens in the United States on Feb. 11, "Carancho" has similarly been sold for an American remake, Mr. Trapero said. Scott Cooper, the writer and director behind "Crazy Heart," is attached to that project, with a script written by Aaron Stockard ("The Town" and "Gone Baby Gone").
The president of Argentina's academy, which has 246 voting members, is none other than Juan Jose Campanella, the director of "The Secret in Their Eyes." He has praised the selection of "Carancho" as one that will further strengthen Argentina's reputation abroad. "In a certain way, we need to establish a brand, the brand of Argentine cinema," he told the Argentine news agency Telam after the vote in October. "And to do that, nothing is better than the Oscar, which has an impact on the life of a film that is much greater than any other prize."
As for Mr. Trapero, he has been through this drill before. His prison drama "Leonera," or "Lion's Den," was Argentina's Oscar submission two years ago, and from that experience, he said, he learned a few lessons.
"I'd love to win, but you can't do much, at least from this distance," he said. "You have to be patient, let things take their course, trust your American distributor and hope that the voters will see the merit in what you've done."